Though it was the release of his now-classic recording of "My Favorite Things" that thrust saxophonist John Coltrane into the limelight in 1960, he had already been a respected talent on the jazz scene for a decade.
"John Coltrane: The Prestige Recordings," a 16-CD, $225 set produced by Orrin Keepnews and just released on Prestige Records, documents the innovative hornman's formative 1956-58 period.
While Coltrane recorded with Miles Davis in 1955 and '56 for Prestige, those tracks have already been released in an eight-disc set titled "Miles Davis: Chronicle" and aren't repeated here.
The new 120-tune set showcases the saxophonist, who died in 1967 at the age of 40, in various combinations, from leading his own quartet to being a participant in all sorts of informal sessions.
In the collection, Coltrane plays tenor saxophone, save a few cuts where he plays alto, in the company of such notables as pianists Red Garland and Tommy Flanagan, saxophonists Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins and Zoot Sims, and trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Donald Byrd.
By the time these recordings were completed, Coltrane's early style--exemplified by a crying sound, a tear-it-up technique and a thirst for new avenues of improvisation--was already firmly established.
The style would make Coltrane the most influential jazzman, besides Davis, of his era. His mark would be felt in such saxmen as Branford Marsalis, Michael Brecker, Harold Land, Joe Lovano, Bill Perkins and David Sanborn.
On "The Prestige Recordings," listeners will find a wealth of first-rate material. Tunes such as "Lover Come Back to Me" and "Black Pearls" reveal Coltrane's unrivaled ability to string streams of notes together at the fastest tempos, while "Stardust" and "Soultrane" show that the hornman was also capable of poetic statements on very slow songs.
Critic's Choice: The New York Voices is yet another group that reflects the influence of Coltrane. On "Hearts of Fire," the Manhattan-based vocal quintet's new GRP album, there's a scintillating version of the tenorman's "Giant Steps," featuring Darmon Meader's elastic scat singing, followed by an impressive, orchestrated scat chorus by the full ensemble.
But this polished, likable unit, which makes its Los Angeles debut tonight at At My Place in Santa Monica, also enjoys pop-based songs, such as Earth, Wind and Fire's "The Way of the World" and Stevie Wonder's "Too High." The singers offer vocal gymnastics, but they work with solid pitch and good taste, making their performances compelling and appealing.